Tone Tips

Happy Trails: The Definitive Binson Echorec Shootout

  • By Yoel Kreisler @tonereport
  • April 29, 2016
  • 7 Comments

Strangers passing in the street, by chance two separate glances meet, and I am you and what I see is me. And do I take you by the hand, and lead you through the land, and help me understand the best I can. And no one told us to move on, and no one forces down our eyes. No one speaks and no one tries, no one flies around the sun.” –Pink Floyd, “Echoes” (Meddle, 1971)

You feel yourself floating on a foggy ocean, the dank air seems to hold a haunting energy and a darkness that seeps into your lungs with each breath. Every direction across you blue, and with each slight movement you feel ripples washing across your humble vessel. A humid azure that is neither warm nor cold surrounds you, and formlessly descends on your skin. Out of nowhere, the warm blue turns bright, and the still air screams, every droplet of water down to the subatomic layer seethes, spits, and pulses with energy. The water below you lurches with each pulse, and a veritable mass of sound, somehow lost in its own magnitude, crashes into every pore of your body…

If you want an idea of what the Binson Echorec sounds like, look no further than YouTube demoes or classic examples smattered across Pink Floyd’s back catalogue. If you want to know what the Echorec feels like, I have tried my best to synthesize into words my many hours of sonic exploration into the world of the Binson Echorec for you, dear readers. I dove deep into the underwater caverns and colossal space craters, to pull out what discoveries I have found to share with you today. As always, from my travels I come bearing gifts, explorations of the other side; the dark side, if you will.

The Binson Echorec was the brainchild of Dr. Bonfiglio Bini, an Italian entrepreneur who owned and operated the Binson Amplifier HiFi Company in Milan, Italy. While it manufactured many music and audio products beginning in the late ‘40s, the Binson Echorec remains to be one of its most hallowed and heralded units to this day, namely because of the association with one of the biggest names in music: Pink Floyd. The Echorec works quite different than other tape machines of the time, by utilizing a magnetic drum head over four different tape heads, as opposed to the tape loop system employed by other tape echoes of the time, such as the Watkins Copicat or the Meazzi Tape Echo. This method of delay provided a more stable and reliable system, without the extra pains of tape tension and excessive or uneven head wear. The original Binson Echorecs have long since been out of production, and a vintage Echorec can easily fetch at least $2,000. There have been many attempts to try and capture the magic behind that old Italian oddity, and today I have acquired a few to see how they shape up, let’s dive right in.

For this demo, I decided to record direct in, using the incredible Effectrode Blackbird preamp after each pedal to warm up the repeats and add some authentic tube warmth. Each Echorec has both a clean and dirty clip, to show how each pedal reacts to different gain levels. For the delays, I have tried to keep it simple with a single-head function, so you can really hear the character of the repeats. Here are the dry reference clips:

 

 

 

ECHOREC 1: CATALINBREAD ECHOREC

Hailing from Portland, Oregon, these professional sonic troublemakers’ rendition of the Binson Echorec is almost bar-none in sound and fanbase. While perhaps not the most “authentic” reproduction of the Echorec in terms of selectable playback heads and the famous “swell” function, the countless fans of this pedal—and the incredible sound it produces—far outweigh the almost-negligible cons here. Don’t take my word for it though, have a listen for yourself:

 

 

 

ECHOREC 2: DAWNER PRINCE BOONAR

A relative newcomer in the world of Echorecs, the Boonar, hailing from Croatia, seeks to be the most authentic Echorec simulator, using selectable playback heads, swell and echo functions, and a combined Bass and Treble EQ knob, just like the original. The virtual drum head is controlled by DSP, and it is noticeably brighter sounding than the other offerings on this list. Dawner Prince has reportedly corrected this for the current run of Boonars, so if you want an accurate recreation control-wise of the Echorec, look no further.

 

 

ECHOREC 3: GURUS AMPS ECHOSEX

Hailing from Italy, the “guru” behind Gurus Amps, is Chicco Belini, a perfectionist engineer that takes his tone incredibly seriously. The Echosex may lack the frills of selectable tape heads or swell functions, but for single head delay the cavernous repeats and gritty character provided by the tube preamp inside the Echosex is hard to replicate with any other unit. Belini said he wanted to create an easy-to-use, modern-feeling delay that is easy to set and forget. If this more simple delay formula is not your cup of tea, but you still love the sound of the Echosex, there are rumblings of a fully featured Echosex in the pipeline.

 

 

ECHOREC 4: STRYMON EL CAPISTAN

This pedal may not be a straight-up or obvious recreation of the Binson Echorec, but the Echorec has had clear influence in its design. The El Cap is a favorite among tapeaholics and delay nuts alike, and is a truly innovative digital formula to which many analog guys and gals are warming up. The character of this delay is almost unlike any I have ever played before, and is not at all a straightforward delay. There is some very obvious reverb mixed in with the signal, and while it may help the sound feel more cavernous and haunting, if all you want is straightforward repeats, this is not the pedal for you. It’s easy to recommend however, just because of how awesome it sounds. It may not be authentic, but it can still get you very close to those haunting Live at Pompeii tones that so many Binson fanatics lust after.

 

 

ECHOREC 5: PETE CORNISH T.E.S.

Pete Cornish is perhaps one of the most controversial names in the effects business. His fans are incredibly outspoken and adamant, and his detractors equally so. For many, his pedals symbolize the apex of tone, the absolute pinnacle of sonic perfection, albeit at a price that would make most people spit, scoff, or faint. The T.E.S. piggybacks off of a Boss DD-2 circuit, and is more or less a “Cornishized” version of the classic delay pedal, featuring a massive grey box, AC Power, and a T.E.S. mode that is operated by an 8k filter that cuts the highs with each repeat. This specific T.E.S. is the “Boss faceplate” version, and was only manufactured for Mass Street Music for a very short time. I would like to extend a warm thanks to my friend across the pond, Phil Robinson, who let me borrow his T.E.S. for this demo.

 

 

Now comes the inevitable question, which one is the best? The answer to that is almost as ephemeral as the repeats on an Echorec, or as ambiguous as a politician’s answer. There is no right or wrong here, only what you perceive is the best. Do the dark repeats of the Catalinbread call your name, or does the crushing weight of the T.E.S. grab your fancy? Wherever you GAS may propel you, and wherever your lust takes form, you can’t go wrong with any of these pedals. Happy trails friends!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

7 Comments

  1. Andrew

    “There is some very obvious reverb mixed in with the signal” - The reverb can be completely dialed out by using one of the the secondary functions (Time knob and holding down tap and bypass switches).

  2. Chris Sieggen

    I had the pleasure of being the electric guitar manager at Mass Street Music from 2000 - 2007. I happened to stumble upon Pete’s work when I purchased a P-2 for my personal use in 2004. Pete followed up with an e-mail wanting to know how I was getting along with my new pedal and from that conversation, Mass Street forged a dealer relationship with Pete. While it was not part of his regular product listing, a conversation about work Pete had done for David Gilmour revealed he had a delay unit he could make for us, given I could locate a vintage DD-2 to send in for modification. Once we received the first T.E.S., a handful of our customers had the unique pleasure of demoing the unit before it was sold. (I believe the unit in the picture was the first one Pete built for us.) We were all amazed at how something so pedestrian as a DD-2 could be transformed into something so magical and liquid sounding! In total, I believe Pete made three “Boss Faceplate” versions of his T.E.S. for us. I’m not sure we were the only dealer to have sold the T.E.S., but I’m sure there weren’t that many made and sold. It was NOT a cheap pedal to sell! grin I am happy to see this particular T.E.S. found its way to an appreciative owner. I can’t believe its been 10 years since this one was made.

    Chris Sieggen

  3. Yoel Kreisler

    Chris,

    Thank you for your insightful comments! That’s an excellent story, and this pedal was definitely a once in a lifetime opportunity.

    Thanks for sharing!

    -Yoel

  4. Buddy

    ‘While perhaps not the most “authentic” reproduction of the Echorec in terms of selectable playback heads and the famous “swell” function’ -considering that it’s only 1 of the 2 pedals on this list that has selectable playback heads, and with a selector knob very similar to the Binson 2, this kind of doesn’t make sense. Otherwise, great article! Catalinbread fan myself!

  5. m

    Andrew beat me to it.  Probably a good idea to read the el Capistan manual before you claim that “if all you want is straightforward repeats, this is not the pedal for you.”

    Also, who is looking for straightforward repeats from a Echorec emulator, anyway?

    Lastly, the other “hidden” controls on the el Capistan can actually be used to set it up to sound more like an Echorec and less like a tape delay.  Using those controls (along with the instructions), I got it to sound close enough to the Catalinbread that I decided that I didn’t need to keep the Catalinbread, although the Catalinbread is a very cool pedal.

  6. eric

    how can a ‘definitive’ shootout not include an actual Echorec?? 
    that is what i came to read about and hear!  bummer.

  7. Kevin "Caevan O'Shite" Miller

    Please note that the Strymon El Capistan’s spring-reverb replication (based on that of some Roland Space Echo units) can be dialed out altogether if desired; I keep mine dialed-in very low in its mix, for just a subtle touch of added echo ambiance.